Roman mosaic excavated in Southwark in ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ find

Archaeologists have discovered the largest area of Roman mosaic found in London for over 50 years in Southwark.

The mosaic has two highly decorated panels which feature flowers, intertwining strands and geometric patterns.

It is thought to have been in the dining room of a Roman hotel – or mansio.

The find was uncovered by Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) at a site between Southwark Street, Redcross Way and Union Street where excavations have been taking place ahead of the construction of The Liberty of Southwark.

MOLA Site Supervisor Antonietta Lerz said: “This is a once-in-a-lifetime find in London. 

“It has been a privilege to work on such a large site where the Roman archaeology is largely undisturbed by later activity.

“When the first flashes of colour started to emerge through the soil everyone on site was very excited.” 

The largest mosaic panel has been dated to the late 2nd to early 3rd century AD, but the room was in use for a longer period of time. 

Traces of an earlier mosaic underneath the one discovered have also been discovered showing the room was refurbished over the years, perhaps to make way for the latest trends.

Dr David Neal, former archaeologist with English Heritage and leading expert in Roman mosaic, has attributed this design to the ‘Acanthus group’ – a team of mosaicists working in London who developed their own unique local style.

(image: Andy Chopping)

Excavations on this site have been taking place as part of the wider regeneration of the area, set to be completed in 2024 with the opening of The Liberty of Southwark. 

The development will include offices, homes, shops and restaurants.

Henrietta Nowne, Senior Development Manager at regeneration specialist U+I who are jointly developing The Liberty of Southwark with Transport for London said the find was brilliant.

She said: “The Liberty of Southwark site has a rich history, but we never expected a find on this scale or significance. 

“We are committed to celebrating the heritage of all of our regeneration sites, so it’s brilliant that we’ve been able to unearth a beautiful and culturally-important specimen in central London that will be now preserved so that it can be enjoyed by generations to come.”

The mosaics will be carefully recorded and assessed by an expert team of conservators. 

They will then be lifted and transported off-site, enabling more detailed conservation work to take place. 

Future plans for the public display of the mosaics are currently being determined in consultation with Southwark council.

Pictured top: MOLA archaeologists at work on the mosaic (image: Andy Chopping)

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